Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

A Summerville High School student has taken on a daunting challenge for her senior project: Collecting 1.5 million pennies to show the estimated number of children killed in the Holocaust.

Sarah Freedman, 18, and her family, who live in Sonora, have already gathered more than $3,000 by sending out letters and placing collection jars in local schools.

The money will go to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which focuses on the Holocaust and various forms of prejudice in the United States.

Sarah said being Jewish is an important part of her identity.

"She was aware that not as many people knew as much about (the Holocaust) as she did," said her mother, Nancy Freedman. "She's been well-educated on the Holocaust and the value of maintaining that information and moving forward."

The family's inspiration for the penny-collecting project came from similar projects that have gathered millions of paper clips to show the sheer number of Holocaust victims.

Not all of the Freedmans' donations came in as pennies, but collecting them has helped them understand the scale of the tragedy.

Nazis and their collaborators killed more than a million Jewish children and tens of thousands of Gypsy, Polish and Soviet children, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Nancy Freedman described laying out coins in the family's dining room, the table covered in pennies.

"It's overwhelming to think of how many children that would be," she said.

Even if they don't collect 1.5 million coins, the family considers the project meaningful.

And it's been a learning experience in more than one respect.

Liz Igra, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Central Valley Holocaust Educators' Network in Sacramento, initially told the Freedmans that it didn't seem appropriate to represent victims with such trivial objects.

But the family explained that the purpose of the project was to help Sarah and other students wrap their minds around the millions of lives lost.

Igra said she understood and saw value in the endeavor, even though it's partly designed as a fundraiser. That's because helping teenagers comprehend genocide is difficult.

"The more resources there are on the Web, the harder - not easier - it becomes to teach about the Holocaust," said Igra, a retired teacher.

The Freedmans are planning a family trip to Los Angeles and the Museum of Tolerance in June. They're accepting donations for the senior project through the end of April.

Money can be sent to Sarah Freedman at 1257 Sanguinetti Road, No. 325, Sonora, CA 95370. Checks should be made payable to the Eric Freedman Charitable Foundation - Pennies to Remember the Children.